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JAMAICA. BY CHARLES PLUMMER, ESQ., OF ST. ELIZABETH, JAMAICA. JAMAICA is acknowledged to be a fine island: then the question naturally arises, why is she not prosperous as she was in times gone by ? She was once called the “brightest jewel in the diadem of England.” Wherefore has she lost her brilliancy? Why is she not still the queen of the Antilles ? Why is she sinking day by day into nothingness ? Time was when the Jamaica planters made immense fortunes and peopled Grosvenor-square; they bought majorities in the House of Commons, they trafficked in peerages, they played fantastic tricks until their glory departed. Now she is poor and beggarly. Is it because she is less beautiful or fertile ? No! Celebrated as Italy is for its beautiful scenery, it cannot boast of that variety in detail and those grand features which are to be found in Jamaica. It is said, “Jamaica has scenes surpassing fable," and which cannot be denied by anyone who has been through the island. It exhibits a combination of scenery embracing the sublime, the romantic, the serene.
The climate is also healthy; much misconception prevails in England as to its salubrity; what is known of the heat of the East Indies has been erroneously applied to the West. In Jamaica the range of the thermometer throughout the year is from 650 to 90° Fahr. in the hottest plains, while in the mountains, in proportion to elevation, of from 40° to 70°. The island has almost constantly the advantage of a sea breeze, which tempers the heat by day, and of the land wind, which refreshes by night. There are some of the mountain districts which are said to enjoy the healthiest climate in the world, and offer a welcome home to persons in whom, from hereditary or other causes, there exists a tendency to scrofulous disease and pulmonary consumption.
The soil is generally deep and fertile, and in many instances this island exceeds all the others in vegetable riches.
The population is of a mixed race, white and coloured: the coloured race preponderates and is the labouring class, the white the governing. The governing class, who are still infected with all the old notions and distinctions between • master and slave, still expect the same subserviency and obedience from the freed-men as they did when the system of slavery prevailed; they still endeavour to exercise the selfsame domineering influence, and are chagrined and cut up where it is not generally accorded them; they refuse to ameliorate the condition of the mass, and in some instances disbelieve in the ability of the coloured race for improvement and cultivation. The reverend gentleman who lately described them as petteil panthers once declared that he believed that the “negro had no soul ;" yet this gentleman, who was sent to Jamaica to care for the souls of the coloured people, honestly receives his pay for doing that which he believes to be an impossibility. The planters generally are no friends of the people; they abuse the negro as stupid and ignorant and yet they discourage schools, for they would rather the children should labour on their plantations than that they should be sent to school to be taught the way in which they should go. A schoolmaster is an eyesore to many of our Jamaica nabobs. The courts of Petty Sessions can tell many a tale; disputes arise between the planters and the labourers; magistratus are the judges generally; they are nearly always planters, and the poor labourer finds but little justice. If the coloured man tries to improve his condition by dint of hard labour and economy, and lifts his head above his fellow labourers, he is put down at once as an ambitious negro and ought to be crushed. By the thoughtless remarks of a Custos a toll-gate was once broken down by the people, but no bloodshed followed that riot, because men in position connived at it. By the wrong doing of another Custos, supported by a weak Governor, a riot took place; the people are shot down, and when they retaliated civil law was suspended and martial law, with its thirty days' horrors and barbarities, was substituted. Had it not been for the timely and opportune protest of a portion of the English public, which promptly put a stop to the bloody career of Mr. ex-Governor Eyre and his subordinates, the island would have been depopulated, and every intelligent coloured man would have been destroyed who had the temerity to stand between the white tyrants and the oppressed blacks.
The government avowed that sedition was rife throughout the island. The Custos of St. Elizabeth, a gentleman of authority and position in Jamaica, informed Mr. Eyre that his parish was disaffected; he sought for and got a vessel of war stationed at the Port of Black River. But while he was trembling from fear and quaking under the sting of an evil conscience, the people, instead of planning a wicked rebellion, were busily engaged in their usual quiet avocations, and were organizing a more sensible and legal affair in the shape of a co-operative association, and although Mr. Salmon tried his utmost to crush the scheme in the bud and to bring the coloured movers of it to the gallows, during the very height of martial law, by false accusations, yet, nothing daunted, the promoters established the association, the people took off their crops and have sent a sample cargo, along with a deputation of three of their representative men, to assure the British people that while they were wrongly accused of conspiracy they were legally pursuing a different course, to show by deeds, not words only, that they are a misrepresented and maligned people.
A gallant colonel wrote Mr. Eyre, which letter was made evidence, that “ he saw in the face of every negro he met the expression that he would cut every white man's throat ;” and not many weeks after that letter was penned to Governor Eyre, that gallant and farseeing officer got stuck in the mud while travelling (with his family, I believe) and there was no help to be got but from those very negroes in whose face he saw “ treason, stratagem and spoil,” and who joyfully rescued him and his carriage from the dilemma he was in and sent him on his way rejoicing, That the bulk of the Jamaica people are prone to sedition or that they are of a rebellious nature I positively deny; they are a forgiving and a forbearing people. In a great many instances which came under the writer's observation during the height of martial law in Jamaica, the negroes volunteered their services to protect the lives and property of their terrified white employers.
They have not sent a deputation to seek redress for injuries done; they do not cry out for vengeance on the heads of those who revelled in the blood of their friends and their race; they would rather leave vengeance to God, to whom it belongeth. They prefer, now that English people have taken so much interest in their welfare, to prove that they can and will labour, that they are ready to apply themselves to increased industry, to help themselves and their children and not to depend on the government to help them, a government that, if it was not oppressive, was either really and truly neglectful, or incapable.
The bulk of the produce exported from Jamaica is raised by the small settlers; it is bought from them by the traders and others, who ship the same as if they were the growers and not the people. The trader gets rich by the labours of the working man, and does he spend his means among them ? does he try to ameliorate their condition or to improve the island ? No! he goes into another country and spends his money. Would England be better off than Jamaica to-day were every man to drain her of her wealth and take it to another country to spend it? The system is an exhaustive one, and that is one reason why Jamaica cannot prosper. Those in power and with means will not improve the island or the condition of the people, because they do not intend to make the island their home. The system of doing good appears to be this :—We support a good many churches, established and nonconformists, we pay the ministers to look after the people; it is their province, not ours. And I feel thankful to say that Jamaica can boast of some exemplary ministers of Christ, hardworking self-denying men, who practically follow the footsteps of their master, “ going about and doing good;" but the greatest drawback to them is the evil influences of the upper class, who, by their mode of living and bad example, almost counteract the influence of the Gospel.
The late legislators of Jamaica were always devising plans and schemes of torture and punishment. The aim of legislation was not preventive but punitive. They would readily grant thousands of pounds for prisons, while they
would waste weeks together discussing whether they would grant £50 or £100 to any one for educational purposes.
JAMAICA: A RETROSPECT. The resistance of the planters of Jamaica to Christian civilization in every form seems to have been more persistent and more disastrous in its effects than that which has been encountered in any other part of the British dominions. Shortly after the capture of the island by the British, on the 10th of May, 1655, a proclamation was issued, inviting the people of New England, “ driven from the land of their nativity into that desert and barren wilderness, for conscience sake, to remove to Jamaica as to a land of plenty, in order to enlighten those parts.” A similar proposition was made to the people of New Haven; land was offered to settlers at a penny an acre, and six ships were placed at the disposal of persons willing to become settlers; the assurance was given of adequate naval and military protection. If this design had been fully accomplished, Kingston would have taken the place of Boston and Spanish Town might have had the prominence of New Haven. Under the last of the Stuarts Jamaica, however, became rather a penal settlement for those who suffered for conscience sake than a paradise of plenty. Members of the Society of Friends and Ejected ministers were in turn banished to the island, and some of the Huguenots of France went to it as a place of exile. Their influence has not been altogether lost; one of the best institutions in Jamaica was founded by Mr. Woolmer, a French Protestant refugee.
Since the establishment of the Jamaica planters no active evangelizing efforts have been regarded with favour. The Church of England, so long as it kept to the formal observance of its ritual, without attempting to instruct the servile population, gave no particular offence.
The MORAVIANS commenced a mission in Jamaica in 1754. Two brothers, William Foster and Joseph Foster Barham, the owners of large estates in the island, being impressed by the preaching of a Moravian minister in London, were anxious that their slaves should receive the benefit of religious instruction. They offered to provide accommodation for a missionary on their own property, and assigned 900 acres for a mission called Carmel. The Brethren who went out accommodated themselves as far as possible to the peculiar institution of slavery; they even became slaveowners themselves. Within certain limits the Jamaica proprietors were willing that the missionaries should exert their influence. It was stated by one of them in the House of Commons that a Moravian negro (i. e. one who was a member of the Brethren's church) was worth considerably more in the market than an ordinary one. Under these restrictions the brethren found they could not fulfil their mission. Practically it was a failure. Mr. Schlegel, in a letter of March, 1769, says—"I have all my life been accustomed to suit myself to persons and circumstances, but I have had to
learn this lesson afresh since I came to Jamaica; here one must give way everybody and submit to everything." The missionaries were in danger of becoming themselves enslaved. Gradually they assumed a bolder and more consistent course, and incurred, in consequence, the bitter reproach and violent hostility of the plantocracy. It was only in the midst of trial, privation, and severe opposition that their useful institutions were established. They have been anxious throughout to give the people sound education and to occupy neglected districts. One of them writes—“ The school at Aberdeen has just been opened. It is situated about eighteen miles to the north of New Eden, in the very centre of the island, in a district which is peopled by a number of settlers, who, having left the sugar estates, have removed to this retired spot, where there is neither church nor school within ten or twelve miles. Though so distant, a few are members of our congregation at New Eden, and attend pretty regularly. It was at their earnest solicitations that our attention was directed to this locality, and we made them a promise that if they would build a school-house we should supply them with a teacher. Upon this they made every exertion; but, not being supported by their neighbours, who appear a very godless and careless people, they have not been able to do more than put up the frame and cover the roof with thatch. This, however, was sufficient to enable us to open the school a few weeks ago.”.
The history of the WESLEYAN METHODIST Mission in Jamaica is worth studying Dr. Come arrived in Kingston on the 19th of January, 1789, and hired a large concert room for religious services. A violent assault was made upon him and his life was in constant jeopardy. On his return to England WILLIAM HAMMETT was sent out as a missionary, and formed a society of eight persons. WILLIAM HARRIS, a free black man from America, also devoted himself to the work. The first Methodist chapel at Kingston was presented by the grand jury at the Court of Quarter Sessions as a nuisance, in 1790, " for preaching doctrines injurious to the general peace and quiet of the inhabitants of the town.” Intolerant acts were passed in succession by the Assembly for the suppression of religious teaching. They were disallowed by the Imperial legislature, but their temporary operation was sufficient for the persecuting object of the planters. When one enactment was vetoed in England they framed another equally intolerant. For a minister to hold a meeting in his own house, for prayer with the negroes, was an offence punishable with fine or imprisonment, and if repeated, the magistrate could inflict any punishment at his discretion, “not extending to life.” “Unauthorized ministers" were to be treated as “rogues and vagabonds." It is instructive to observe that Morant Bay, the scene of the recent outbreak, was one of the places in which efforts for the religious instruction of the people were most frustrated by the planters. The “affectionate people of Morant Bay,” we are told, “paid every possible attention ” to the prisoners. Mr. Campbell, a Methodist minister from England, “exhorted the people, through the iron grating, to hold fast their faith.”